I had tied the balloon to Oliver's wrist, but I did not double knot. The problem begins in that I wanted to be able to remove it when the time came. Time does comes. This is uncontrollable.
Balloons have a propensity to untie themselves, and as he struggled to climb a plaster bulldog and ride it nowhere, the balloon knot unraveled. He didn't notice it go. It was me who jumped at the string and tried to catch the uncatchable.
"My balloon!" he said, the helium could be owned, and he sobbed dolefully as it sailed. We watched it for minutes. I held him. As if a mother could provide some meager consolation for the loss of such an object as a balloon.
When Daddy came, the purple speck was no longer visible in the sky. We walked to the car. Oliver, clomping along, suddenly says in a most pitiful voice: "If I had my rocket boots I could get my balloon."
Different kinds of balloons:
helium, hot air, thought
I vary my perception of Barthelme's, but the cartoon image of language hovering above in a balloon strikes me most forcefully, all references to helium aside.
I vacillated between these three possibilities (helium, hot air, thought) until the ending, in which the balloon becomes a personal construction, in which we are reminded that the author authored the balloon and that there never was such a material construct.
Of course there wasn't. We already know it. The balloon still was fully real for a minute there. What a tricky devil language is.
The thought balloons hover still. Language always was a bunch of hot air, was it not? But hot air can carry a man nevertheless, if he builds his basket carefully and casts aside the sand.